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  • Introduction:Melville A-Veering
  • Ronan Ludot-Vlasak, Édouard Marsoin, and Cécile Roudeau

I know a wind in purpose strong—It spins against the way it drives.What if the gulfs their slimed foundations bare?Herman Melville, "The Conflict of Convictions,"

Battle-Pieces (1866)

'Veering' is a present participle and also a noun. As a present participle it means 'Changing course or direction; turning round, revolving', or (in a figurative sense) 'Vacillating, variable, changeful'; as a noun 'veering' refers to 'The action or fact of changing course or direction' (as in the case of the wind, or a ship, or again, figuratively, anything at all). Veering is an old word 'of obscure origin' (see Oxford English Dictionary, 'veer', v.2), but is connected to the French verb virer, to turn or turn around.

Nicholas Royle, Veering: A Theory of Literature (2011)

We wish to read Melville a-veering. Or rather, we need to. The gusty winds of revolutions, the turbulent currents of war, or the slow drifting of forms and meanings, traverse his oeuvre. The critical veerings of almost two centuries of admiring, perplexed, or resisting readers have unmoored our understandings of his opus, never leaving it at rest; and we are left adrift, exactly, or so it seems, where we should be.

Reading Melville adrift does not mean getting rid of the drift of his works, though; rather, it invites us to embrace the twists and turns of his writing—what drives his writing, and drives us to his words, again and again. In other [End Page 24] words, Royle's words, to read Melville veering impels us to also be veering with Melville, at the microlevel of words and at the macrolevel of his oeuvre, to find and be found by experiences of the unexpected, of the unnecessary and of the non-teleological in the literary.

For all the charts, celestial or maritime, that we find in his novels, Melville's texts in their singularity, and taken as a whole, resist preordained trajectories, be they the grand narratives of nation-building, or the unfolding of an American literary history that has alternately inscribed his oeuvre in and out of the canon. Reading Melville a-veering means shifting from systems to forces, from the rigor mortis of order to the unpredictability of life. It is a demanding move that requires us to embrace the dynamism and kinetic energy of words without yielding to the arbitrariness that lurks in mere chaos; to take the oblique path, that of "digression, deviation or divagation" (Royle 15), to attend to "what is slippery, unpredictable and chancy" (viii), and paradoxically anchor the text in the "perverse, unfinished movement" of the present and the present experience of reading (4). In doing so, we readers, we veerers, need to interrogate our analytical categories, which amounts to no less than challenging our modes of interaction with Melville's texts. As an epistemological method, or winding wondering way into the texts, veering draws our attention to the oxymoronic "careful disorderliness" (Moby-Dick 361) of experience—and writing—to the waywardness of Melville's textual geometries. Literary texts no longer are static representations only, but living productions, not fixed states but fields of forces. And as such, they move us, and change us, much more than we use them and feed on them as we attempt to decipher them.

Veering, as per Royle, is in itself a critical turn and a radical move. It inverts our relation to the texts that we read, suggesting somehow that we are also being read by them. Against voluntary "uses of literature" (Felski), Royle insists on "the inverse logic of how we find ourselves being used—structured, haunted, played with—by literature" (97). In a (perhaps) perverse echo of Felski's call for re-enchanting literature, and therefore, critique, Royle, who already published on literature as telepathy as soon as 1991, asks us to newly attend to the kind of "'magic' in motion, the poetico-performative effects of veering" (112), among which a mode of reading texts beyond the dichotomy of symptomatic reading and surface reading (or post-critique). Reading Melville as a veerer (and as veerers) undoes the impulse to sound his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 24-28
Launched on MUSE
2022-04-14
Open Access
No
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